Take a look at the following passages from Scripture:
“For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.” 1 Chronicles 15:13
“Moreover Jehoiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors, with its bolts and bars.” Nehemiah 3:6
“Thus says the Lord : ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the anceint paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.’”Jeremiah 6:16
What do these seemingly dissimilar Bible verses have in common?
They all point in one way or another to Holy Tradition
So what is Tradition?
The word tradition in Greek is paradosis – mentioned 13 times in the New Testament. The precise meaning is to hand down, along side.
Said another way, the word ‘tradition’ in Scriptures, ‘paradosis’; does not mean imitation of the past but rather delivering a deposit and receiving it. Take a look at these next couple of verses to see the word paradosis in context:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand…” 1 Corinthians 15:1
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13
What does this mean?
It means we live the life of Christ in the liturgy as we actively participate!
It means we can be transformed and renewed through God’s active work in us today!
It means we can unite to God who meets us in the present moment, giving us Himself freely. We can exchange our life for His own.
How is this possible? It is because
“Paradosis is the very life of the Holy Trinity as it has been revealed by Christ Himself and testified by the Holy Spirit”
This is why, while the Bible is incredibly important, it is not the foundation of our faith as Orthodox believers. Look at what some early church writers note:
“By tradition, I knew the four gospels, and that they are the true ones.” -Origen (3rd Century)
“Learn also diligently, and from the Church what are the books of the Old Testament, and what are those of the New. -Cyril of Jerusalem (4th Century)
What then is our foundation of faith?
Tradition is because it is our One Source of Revelation; the Church is “built on [this] foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
That is why Met Kallistos Ware defines Tradition as the following:
It means the books of the Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the ecumenical councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the service books, the Holy icons – in fact he whole system of the doctrine.
Heresies occur when someone takes a verse in the Bible and interprets it himself outside of the Tradition of the Church: decrees of the Councils and the understanding of the whole Church.
We have one source of authority; the Word of God, actualized and revealed in the Person, life and works of Jesus Christ:
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” John 21:25
This shows that Christ didn’t come to give us a book or a written document. He came to give us Life, He came to give us Himself. In the same way parents don’t give their children a set of instructions of how to live but they lead by example.
It is by the action of the Holy Spirit that ‘the tradition of Christ’ is preserved in the Church life through the successive generation, as He always lives and acts in the Church – inspires her life and makes it a continuity of life:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14)
This ‘you’ in the above Bible verse is the collective you of the Church and should not to be interpreted in an individual sense.
It is important to remember that the Church received the ‘word of God’ before it was written on paper therefore when the evangelists and apostles wrote Scripture by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church accepted it, venerated and understood it as a life she has previously practiced.
Therefore, Tradition is that which Christ Himself bestowed, the apostles proclaimed, and the Fathers safeguarded. It is “what is believed always, everywhere, by everyone” (St. Vincent of Lerins) for the first 1000 years after Christ came. It is the One Source of Revelation and the living stream of the One Life of the Church. Tradition is the Gospel of Jesus Christ interpreted, guarded and passed down through apostolic succession.
Why are there so many ‘different’ meanings of Tradition? What does any of this mean? Why does it matter?
It matters because if we don’t understand these things we will not be able to experience them – we will not be able to enjoy a life in and with the Holy Trinity. It matters because if I don’t understand my faith, how will I witness to others and lead them to the joy of being in the fullness of Christ. It matters because I want to see Him as He is and not as I imagine Him.
I pray we are able to run the race in a manner pleasing to His goodness and learn, live, and pass on the true faith to the next generation!